After more than 30 years in operation, Jason’s Deli and its New Orleans-style muffaletta sandwich appeared this week on The Food Network’s program Unwrapped.
“The Food Network inquired with us some months ago about our signature sandwich … and they felt they could make a real neat story out of this,” Jason’s Deli co-founder and CEO Joe Tortorice says. Tortorice and his wife, Shelley Tortorice, talked about their signature sandwich—made with premium ham, hard salami, or oven-roasted turkey breast with provolone cheese and the homemade olive mix—on Monday night’s show.
“This is our really first big national show that we’ve been on,” Joe Tortorice says. “As far as featuring our products in an actually taped show, this is the first one.” The show was filmed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where Jason’s Deli’s muffaletta bread supplier, the Leidenheimer Baking Company, was also interviewed for the segment.
“In order to serve the authentic sandwich, we felt like we needed to get the bread out of New Orleans, and we did,” Tortorice says. To this day, Jason’s Deli workers drive to New Orleans once every week to pick up the muffaletta bread from Leidenheimer.
“The bread is really the key ingredient,” Shelley Tortorice says. “This bread is just delicious. It’s crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.” The loaves of bread used for the muffaletta are about the size of a small frisbee, according to the Unwrapped segment’s commentary by host Marc Summers.
After founding Jason’s Deli in Beaumont, Texas, in 1976, the Tortorices wanted to provide a special item on their menu, and since both had grown up eating the New Orleans muffaletta sandwich, they thought the dish would be a perfect signature sandwich for their new store.
After toying with the recipe for more than a year and finally finding the taste they were confident in, the Jason’s Deli muffaletta was born. The sandwich’s secret weapon of rich flavor comes from its oozy olive salad mix that contains, among other ingredients, black olives, green olives, olive oil, cauliflower, onions, parsley, and oregano.
Tortorice contributes that success and the popularity of the muffaletta to the employees. “The reason why we’re where we are today is the people of our company,” he says. “This muffaletta today is better than it was 34 years ago because we’re constantly improving our product, and that’s because of the people.”
Jason’s Deli sells its muffaletta in three sizes—the quarter-muff, the half-muff, and the 9-inch whole-muff.
By Jill Watral